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UA planning new on-campus home for Native American community

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Marison Bilagody | The Daily Wildcat

The University of Arizona plans to construct a new area called Unity Plaza in front the Old Main's fountain to honor the 22 tribal nations in Arizona.

The Office of Native American Advancement and Tribal Engagement on the University of Arizona campus announced that it is planning a new center for Native American-affiliated students, staff and faculty. 

In a video released by the university, Nathan Levi Esquerra, senior vice president of Native American Advancement and Tribal Engagement, spoke with university President Dr. Robert C. Robbins about the planned center.

“We’re in the process of learning and gathering information to develop a cultural center  … . We have a survey that went out to our Native students, alumni, tribal leaders and education directors,” Esquerra said in the video.

In September, Esquerra’s office began sending out surveys to Native American students, staff and faculty seeking input to identify “what are the needs and what are the wants” among the Native student body, he said. 

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“We had over 200 undergraduate students respond to the survey,” Esquerra said in an interview.

The NAATE office held an open house on Wednesday, Dec. 7, in Old Main to allow the UA Native American community to share ideas and get input from the community on the proposed space.

“We had a team go up to cultural centers in Washington, here in Arizona at Northern Arizona University and even the Smithsonian museum in Washington, D.C.,” Esquerra said. “At the open house, we shared poster boards and models that highlighted the various parts of the other cultural centers.”

The Native American Student Association runs the cultural center for the Native American students and faculty on campus. The center occupies the second floor of the Nugent Building, which is also home to the Dean of Students Office. The Asian Pacific American Student Affairs has also been housed in the Nugent until it recently relocated to the fourth floor of the Student Union Memorial Center. 

“The new center has been in the works for a number of years,” said Felisia Tagaban Gaskin, director of the Native Student Outreach, Access and Resiliency program, which allows undergraduate students to mentor Native American students from elementary through high school. 

Tagaban Gaskin said plans for a new Native American student center has been in the works since 2019, but was put on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“I am really looking forward to how the center will meet the needs of Native students, families and the community on campus,” Tagaban Gaskin said. 

While the new cultural center is in the planning phase it will receive funding from the university, Esquerra explained. 

“We have some people that have expressed interest in funding, but we have to follow the strategic plan guidelines,” he said. “We’re doing our best to move this forward; that’s my goal and that’s why I’m here. Once we have a site picked out and know for certain what’s going to be in the center, we’ll begin to pursue the necessary funding.”


 *El Inde Arizona is a news service of the University of Arizona School of Journalism.


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